Monday, July 16, 2007


Care Labels Trump Designer Labels

Being label-conscious used to mean sacrificing all for the designer name of the moment. But, perhaps because they are busier today than ever before, modern women are approaching everything they do with an eye toward practicality, and that includes shopping and caring for all of the garments in their households.

It may seem “old school” to suppose that women are the primary launderers of the family; it is the 21st century, after all. But, women themselves state that it is a time-honored tradition. In fact, nearly 75 percent of female respondents told the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor™ that their mothers taught them how to do laundry.

Whether it’s an extension of old-fashioned home ec, or new-century economics tinged with environmental concerns, a garment’s care label is the starting flag for practicality. Those little hieroglyphs on the small tag speak more loudly than designer influence. According to the Monitor, three out of four female respondents said that they consult the garment care label and most do so simply because they need to know what they are getting themselves into before purchasing.

“Women check the laundering instructions for both economics and convenience,” explains Melissa Bastos, manager of market research at Cotton Incorporated. “They are factoring in the maintenance in terms of cost and how much time and effort the garment may require.”

Bastos also points out that the care label may be the tipping point for today’s bargain shopper. “If she is considering a sale item that might require dry cleaning or some other time-consuming maintenance, that extra time and money could negate the savings, and thus, the purchase.

Monitor data supports the assertion, as three out of five female respondents revealed that they first review the laundering instructions in the fitting room, as opposed to their laundry room.

Industry insiders know that convenience is key. “I challenge you to find any woman who doesn’t value the concept of easy care, states Linda Teman, a manager at Sierra Trading Post, the multi-channel retailer. “Wash and wear, while a somewhat antiquated term, is still the ruling principle. I don’t think that will change since women have less time than ever and certainly don’t want to spend it in front of laundry machines or ironing boards!

”Think of the care and content label as a guideline, says Wendy Thayer, a spokesperson for Garnet Hill, another multi-channel retailer. “We put care instructions in every product category that we offer and that helps our customers get the most from their purchases. Following the recommended instructions will help maintain the integrity of the garment and maximize the investment.”

The care label is so important for some women that it even trumps brand name, reports the Monitor. While 50 percent of female respondents cited laundering instructions as information important to her purchase decision; only 25 percent cited the designer or manufacturer’s name.

Today’s technologically- advanced machines can lend consumers a hand and take some of the guesswork out of the laundering process, cites Teman. “Washing machines are getting more sophisticated and have different cycles for different fabrics, so we can take some chances here and there.

”Yet, problems do occur in the laundering process and these include torn seams, fading and shrinking. In just a few short years, the incidence of fading appears to be waning. In 2003, 68 percent of consumers told the Monitor that they bought a garment that faded. In 2006, nearly the same percentage cited the reverse; 70 percent said that they had not purchased an item that faded over time.

With regard to fading, once again, women demonstrate their practicality; certain garments are going to fade and they accept that. Female respondents told the Monitor that they expected black cotton pants to fade after fourteen washes on average.

Such acceptance may explain why fading appears to be a decreasing concern; in 2006, 56 percent of respondents said that fading did not bother them, up from 38 percent saying the same in 2003.

That particularly holds true with jeans. “Respondents have told us repeatedly that they don’t care if their denim fades,” Bastos shares. “They actually expect it.”

However, if given a choice, some women would opt to preserve their darker denim hues with a little help from technology. In 2006, 51 percent of female respondents told the Monitor that they were somewhat to very likely to buy a pair of black jeans specially engineered not to fade; 49 percent felt the same about blue jeans.

Garment care labels are not an investment prospectus, but those little tags do contain data that impacts individual consumer economies. Calculating the asking price versus the long-term maintenance is the value formula today’s value-conscious consumers are making. For today’s women, being label conscious is not a matter of fashion pride or keeping up the Joneses; it’s a practical approach to making the most out of a wardrobe investment.

This story is one in a series of articles based on findings from Cotton Incorporated’s Lifestyle Monitor™ tracking research. Each story will focus on a specific topic as it relates to the American women’s wear consumer and her attitudes and behavior regarding clothing, appearance, fashion, fiber selection and many other timely, relevant subjects.